How to Get Internet in Japan: Top 5 Connectivity Choices Ranked

Across multiple trips to  Japan, we’ve learned how important it is to stay connected. From pocket wifi for our children’s iPads when they were younger to eSIMs for hassle-free travel as a couple, we’ve explored all the ways how to get internet in Japan. 

This guide ranks five connectivity options – pocket WiFi, SIM cards, eSIMs, international roaming, and public WiFi – based on our experiences to help you choose the best one for your journey in Japan.

Remember that the best choice for you will depend on your specific travel needs, as they may differ from ours.

Overview of the Five Ways to Stay Connected in Japan

Before we discuss our ranking, here’s a brief overview of each option.

  • Pocket Wifi: A small device that acts as a portable hotspot. It lets multiple devices like smartphones and tablets connect to the internet simultaneously wherever there’s cell/mobile service.
  • SIM Card: A small chip that connects you to a local Japanese phone network when inserted into your phone. It often comes with a Japanese phone number, allowing access to local call rates that are cheaper than international rates.
  • eSIM: A digital SIM (so no installation required) that connects you to a Japanese phone network without a physical SIM card. It allows dual network use, so you can use your home country network while using the Japanese network at the same time.
  • International Roaming: This option lets you use your existing phone service abroad. Activate it with your carrier before departure, and your phone will automatically connect to a local network when you arrive in Japan.
  • Public Wifi: Access free internet at urban hotspots like cafes and airports by selecting the network and entering the provided password, if necessary.
Scenic view of Oshino Hakkai village with a crystal-clear pond in the foreground, traditional thatched-roof buildings, and bustling tourists. Mount Fuji looms majestically in the background under a clear blue sky.
Oshino Hakkai Village – Share memories with a good internet connection

Our Ranking – How to Get Internet in Japan

We’ve evaluated and ranked the five most practical ways to stay connected in Japan, tailored to fit a range of travel needs and preferences

  1. eSIMS: Best for travellers comfortable with technology seeking convenience.
  2. Physical SIM cards: Ideal for longer stays and rural explorers who need reliable coverage.
  3. Pocket wifi devices: They are perfect for families or groups who are staying together and needing to connect multiple devices at the same time.
  4. International Roaming: Convenient for short trips or business travellers who need to be reachable at their usual number.
  5. Public Wifi: A viable option for light use in urban areas, though it’s the least reliable.

Our rankings reflect our experiences and needs as well as the changing tech landscape. Connectivity needs differ based on traveller type and trip specifics. Initially, a pocket WiFi suited our family’s needs best. Over time, as technology and our family’s dynamics evolved, eSIMs became our preferred choice due to their greater flexibility and simplicity.

Your ideal option may differ from our rankings, so we recommend considering your travel requirements and tech familiarity when choosing how you are going to stay online in Japan.

Infographic titled 'How to Get Internet in Japan for Tourists', ranking the top 5 connectivity options: eSIM, SIM Card, Pocket Wifi, International Roaming, and Public Wifi. Each option includes pros and cons, cost, setup complexity, reliability, and tech-savviness levels. The layout includes icons and a colorful design to enhance readability.
How to Get Internet in Japan for Tourists

Our Rankings Explained

Now, to get into the detail. We’ve examined the pros and cons of each ranked option, explained what we think are the main use cases, and then given some examples of typical travellers who might be best suited to that option for staying connected.

1. eSIMS

For most travellers to Japan, if they have a compatible phone, eSIM often comes out on top. This is especially so for shorter for solo travellers, business travellers and couples that want straightforward, efficient connectivity. Here’s why:

  1. Convenience: An eSIM eliminates the need to swap out a SIM card physically; you just download an eSIM profile. You also don’t have to carry an additional device like a pocket WiFi. This is a big advantage, particularly when managing multiple devices and keeping them all charged, which can be cumbersome.
  2. Set-up ahead of time: We set up our eSIMs before we arrive in Japan. They’re ready to use immediately when we arrive – no stress or fuss.
  3. Functionality: With an eSIM, you can keep your original SIM card active for calls and texts while using the eSIM for local data services in Japan. Having dual SIMs allows you to stay locally and internationally connected without juggling multiple phones or devices.
  4. Future-Proofing: More and more phones are becoming eSIM compatible, so it’s a future-proof choice. Those phones that support eSIM offer a level of flexibility and technological integration that traditional SIM cards and pocket WiFi devices can’t match. In the future, there will be more and more eSIM providers and plans offering greater value at a lower price.

While the list is growing, not all phones currently support eSIM technology. Setup can sometimes be a little tricky, depending on your eSIM provider. Also, check on your home carrier’s compatibility. If you want to use a phone with an eSIM as a hotspot, it will cause a battery drain similar to that of a physical SIM card.

Best Fit For

  • Tech-savvy travellers who prefer digital solutions and enjoy staying at the forefront of technology will appreciate the seamless integration of eSIMs.
  • Multi-destination travellers who are visiting multiple countries and want to easily switch between different carriers without swapping physical SIM cards.
  • Dual SIM phone users wish to keep their home number active for calls and texts while using a local data plan, providing a balance of connectivity for home and local contacts.

Example Travellers – Meet Sofia and Jake

This tech-savvy couple switches seamlessly between networks, keeping their travel simple and efficient with eSIMs as they blog their adventures.

2. Physical SIM Card

Traditional SIM cards represent a middle ground, balancing the familiarity of physical SIMs with the need for more intensive data use, making them particularly suitable for tourists and long-term visitors who prefer a straightforward, no-frills approach to connectivity.

  1. Accessibility and Reliability: Traditional SIM cards offer direct access to local networks, ensuring reliable and often faster data connections. They are widely available at airports, convenience stores, and specialised shops across Japan, making it easy to connect soon after arrival.
  2. Better Coverage: Traditional SIM Cards offer great coverage, particularly in rural areas.
  3. Cost-Effective: For longer stays, or for those without eSIM-compatible devices, traditional SIM cards often provide more data at a lower cost than international roaming.
  4. Flexibility: Users can choose from a variety of plans based on their data needs, and topping up is generally straightforward, which is ideal for extended trips.

To use physical SIM cards, you’ll need an unlocked phone; swapping SIM cards can be inconvenient and result in a different phone number. You can use your phone with a Japan SIM card as a hotspot, but it will quickly drain your phone’s power.

Best Fit For

  • Long-term travellers: Those staying in Japan for an extended period can benefit from local rates and better data packages that are often more cost-effective than other options.
  • Rural explorers: Travellers outside major urban centres will find that physical SIM cards often provide better coverage in less populated areas.
  • Data-heavy users: Individuals who stream videos, work remotely, or use high amounts of data will find physical SIM cards offer substantial data allowances at competitive rates.
Promotional graphic for Mobal's Japan Unlimited SIM card, featuring the greeting 'Konnichiwa I’m your Japan Unlimited SIM' in bold blue letters. The image includes icons of a torii gate, Mount Fuji, and a SIM card, with the Mobal logo at the bottom.
Mobal Sim Card

Example Traveller – Meet Carlos

As a photographer capturing Japan’s landscapes, Carlos values a SIM card’s reliable and uninterrupted connection, which is essential for uploading large files and staying connected in remote locations.

3. Pocket Wifi Devices – Best for Simplicity and Multiple Devices

The main drawbacks are the need to carry an additional device, keep it charged, and ensure it is returned at the end of the trip, which can be cumbersome for some travellers. 

However, pocket wifi is still a brilliant choice for those travelling with a young or extended family (and are staying together) or those needing a lot of data.

  1. Multi-device Connectivity: Pocket WiFi devices are excellent for travellers in groups or families, as multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) can connect to a single pocket WiFi, sharing the data pool.
  2. Unlimited Data: Many pocket WiFi rental plans offer unlimited data, perfect for heavy data users or those who plan to stream videos, work online, or use GPS navigation extensively throughout their trip.
  3. Easy to set up: You don’t need to swap SIM cards or configure eSIMs. All you have to do is connect your devices to the pocket Wifi.
  4. No Need for Device Compatibility: Since the device only requires WiFi capability, users don’t need to worry about whether their smartphone supports a Japanese SIM card or eSIM.
  5. Portable and convenient: A pocket Wifi device is small, easy to carry around, and easy to connect to. It also doesn’t drain your phone’s battery.
  6. Cost-effective. You don’t need to pay the cost for individual SIM cards or designs.

Best Fit For

  • Families or groups who need to connect multiple devices simultaneously will find pocket WiFi devices incredibly useful, avoiding the need for individual plans for each person.
  • Tech gadget carriers with multiple devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, or game consoles that require WiFi will benefit from a single device that can connect them all to the internet.
  • Travellers who prioritise ease of use and prefer not to deal with the technical aspects of swapping SIMs or setting up eSIMs will appreciate the straightforward, user-friendly nature of pocket wifi.

Example Travellers – Meet the Lee Family

Travelling with grandparents and kids who are staying together, they find that one device effortlessly connects everyone, allowing for easy navigation and entertainment on the go.

A display of a Japan Wireless rental package laid out on a wooden surface, including a letter pack envelope with instructions in Japanese, a portable Wi-Fi router, USB cable, power bank, and a navy blue carrying case with the Japan Wireless logo.
Japan Wireless Package contents

4. International Roaming

We’ve ranked international roaming fourth due to (what we think) are some major downsides. 

Downsides include the potential high costs associated with international roaming, especially for data, which can be prohibitively expensive. You will generally get much better value for money from other options like pocket wifi and SIM. There are also potentially limited data speeds or allowances, making it less ideal for data-heavy usage or longer stays. 

There are definitely some clear reasons why people might choose international roaming, though:

  1. Utmost Convenience: Using your home carrier’s international roaming is undoubtedly the most convenient option as it requires no setup or changes; your phone just works as soon as you land.
  2. Keep Your Number: This keeps your phone number active, which is important for staying reachable by your friends, family, and other contacts or for security verifications.
  3. Simple and Familiar: There is no need to understand new systems or visit stores, which is a plus for less tech-savvy travellers or those on short trips.

Definitely check with your phone provider first, as they may have an international roaming plant that perfectly meets your needs.

Best Fit For

  • Short trips where minimal data is used.
  • Business travellers who need to be reachable at their regular number at all times.
  • Travellers who prioritise convenience over cost and do not require heavy data usage.

Example Travellers – Meet Emma

On frequent business trips to Tokyo, Emma opts for international roaming to stay reachable via her usual contact details, a must for her swift, seamless travels.

5. Public Wifi

We’ve ranked public Wi-Fi number five due to our concerns about data security, inconsistency in coverage and speed, and limited accessibility in rural areas. These are deal breakers for us. However, there are some definite benefits as well:

  • Cost: Public wifi is usually free, making it an attractive option for travellers on a budget.
  • Accessibility: It is available in many urban public areas, such as airports, cafes, train stations, and hotels, and it provides easy access without the need for any setup or special equipment.
  • Convenience for Casual Use: Ideal for quick online checks, such as looking up directions or checking emails.

If you’re going to use public wifi, particularly for sensitive transactions, make sure you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Best Fit For

  • Light internet users who only need to check their emails or use the internet occasionally may find public wifi insufficient.
  • Urban Travelers who plan to stay within major cities and don’t require a constant or heavy internet connection might rely on public wifi spots.
  • Budget-conscious travellers who want to avoid additional expenses on internet connectivity. Public wifi offers a no-cost solution.

Example Travellers: Meet Raj

A student on a budget, Raj relies on public WiFi for his studies and casual browsing. He uses a VPN to ensure his online activities remain secure while accessing free networks.

A scenic view of Mount Fuji with its snow-capped peak, seen from a lush green pasture dotted with grazing cows under a clear blue sky.
It’s great to stay connected even in more rural locations to share your experiences with family and friends.

Staying Online in Japan – Mishaps and Challenges

While we’ve ranked various connectivity options to help you stay online in Japan, it’s important to consider real-world challenges that could influence your choice.

The following incidents from our experiences and hypothetical scenarios based on incidents shared by our Facebook group members illustrate potential issues you may come across. Such experiences won’t ruin your holiday, but they can get annoying.

(a) Our SIM Card Fumble

We were exhausted and disoriented after a long flight from Australia to a busy international airport about six years ago. All we wanted to do was get to our hotel and rest. But first, we wanted to let our families know we arrived safely and check our route on Google Maps. Like many travellers, we used traditional SIM cards for their simplicity. However, this choice led to unexpected difficulties.

Swapping SIM cards became a struggle during the bus ride from the airport to the city centre. The small card slipped from our hands, nearly getting lost on the bus floor. Even after retrieving it, inserting it proved to be another challenge, a task that was simple yet frustratingly difficult when all you want to do is relax.

Our experience highlights the drawbacks of physical SIM cards. An eSIM would have eliminated these issues, as there are no physical cards to handle – so no tiny objects to drop, lose or fumble. We could have prepared the eSIM in advance, significantly easing our stress upon arrival.

(b) Case of the Missing SIM Card

On a 2019 trip to Japan, we misplaced our home SIM card after swapping it for a local one—a common mishap that caused a stressful 30-minute search. This time could have been spent enjoying a bowl of ramen instead. Such incidents highlight the risks of using physical SIM cards.

This experience is another strong case for eSIMs.

(c) Lost in Translation – Pocket Wifi Goes Astray

The above two examples were real-life experiences. This hypothetical scenario and the ones that follow are based on situations that members have recounted in our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group.

On their first visit to Japan, the Johnston family (of five) rented a pocket WiFi to avoid juggling individual SIM cards. All seemed well when they collected the device at the airport.

However, while exploring Shibuya, their youngest momentarily held the device and accidentally left it in a café. They only realised it was missing at their next stop. Frantically, they returned, losing an hour and much peace of mind, until a café worker returned the safe-kept device. This experience exposed the risks of relying on a single device for group connectivity and the severe inconvenience of potentially losing it.

(d) The Unintended Souvenir

The following is a hypothetical scenario, but this almost happened to us once when we were at Narita Airport about to fly back to Australia. We’ve also heard stories like the following numerous times in our Japan Facebook Group.

Sarah and David, on their honeymoon in Japan, rented a pocket WiFi device to stay connected as they travelled from Tokyo to Kyoto, sharing moments with family and friends. 

However, as they hurriedly packed for their return, the device was accidentally buried in Sarah’s carry-on and forgotten amidst the rush to the airport, only to be discovered upon unpacking at home. 

This oversight led to panic as they faced potential late fees and the challenge of returning the device, involving numerous calls and emails that added stress and unexpected costs. 

This incident underlines the risks of renting pocket WiFi devices – the convenience during travel comes with the responsibility of timely return, which can complicate journeys, especially when in haste.

(e) Troubled Times for a Tech Enthusiast

This specific example is hypothetical but based on experiences regularly shared in our Facebook Group. 

Carmen, a solo tech enthusiast, was eager to try an eSIM on her business trip to Osaka. Attracted by the convenience of digital switching without physical SIM cards, she was unable to use her smartphone properly for eSIM use upon arrival. 

Efforts to activate the eSIM resulted in frustrating calls with her home provider and additional troubleshooting that consumed hours and added significant stress to her first day in Japan. 

Despite its benefits, this experience underscores that eSIM technology relies on correct setup and compatibility. Travelers may encounter technical challenges, particularly where immediate support or language assistance is lacking, making what should be a straightforward process complicated.

What to Learn from the Mishaps and Challenges

  1. eSIM Challenges: Consider Carmen’s struggle with activating her eSIM due to improper setup. This highlights the importance of ensuring your device is compatible and pre-configured, underscoring why eSIMs, while convenient, require preparation.
  2. Physical SIM Card Mishaps: Our own experiences with losing and misplacing physical SIM cards demonstrate how this reliable connectivity option poses risks of physical management and potential loss. This serves as a reminder of the benefits of digital solutions like eSIMs that eliminate such physical hassles.
  3. Pocket Wifi Risks: The Johnston family’s experience of losing their pocket Wifi in Shibuya illustrates the responsibility of managing a physical device that’s critical for group connectivity. It stresses the need for vigilance and the drawbacks of depending on a single device for internet access.

By understanding these mishaps and challenges, you can better appreciate the pros and cons of each connectivity option and make a choice that suits your travel style and needs. 

Always consider your specific situation and prepare accordingly to avoid these common pitfalls and ensure a smooth and connected travel experience in Japan.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right way to stay online in Japan can improve your travel experience, whether managing kids with devices, seeking hassle-free solo travel, or needing reliable access in remote locations. 

Each option—from pocket WiFi to eSIMs—has its unique advantages tailored to different needs. Our rankings are designed to guide you through these choices based on extensive personal experience and changing technological landscapes. However, it’s important to consider your specific circumstances and needs when selecting how you connect. Remember, what works for one traveller might not suit another.

Whether you opt for the simplicity of an eSIM or the reliability of a traditional SIM card, by preparing adequately and choosing wisely, you can ensure that your method of staying online minimises unnecessary interruptions or stress.

Pinterest graphic for 'How to Get Internet in Japan', featuring a picturesque scene of Oshino Hakkai village with its traditional buildings and clear pond, with Mount Fuji in the background. The header is overlaid with text highlighting the 'Top 5 Connectivity Choices Ranked'.
How to Get Internet in Japan – Pinterest Image

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You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

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